Monday

21st Aug 2017

Poland's constitutional dispute escalates

  • Szydlo's new law "dramatically limits the court's ability to function independently and thoroughly contravenes Poland's system and cannot be tolerated", the tribunal's vice-president Stanislaw Biernat said (Photo: Lukas Plewnia)

The showdown between the Polish government and the country's Constitutional Tribunal escalated on Wednesday (9 March) as prime minister Beata Szydlo refused to recognise a ruling that invalidated a law on the tribunal itself.

Judges struck down an amendment to the constitution passed in December that modified the tribunal's composition and functioning.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Even before the decision was announced, PM Szydlo has said she would not recognise it. (Photo: European Parliament)

Under the amendment, the tribunal would need a two-thirds majority to take a decision instead of a simple majority. The quorum of judges needed in the 15-member tribunal for a decision to be valid was raised from nine to 13.

It also set a six-month period before the tribunal can examine a case, instead of two weeks.

The law "dramatically limits the court's ability to function independently and thoroughly contravenes Poland's system and cannot be tolerated", the tribunal's vice-president Stanislaw Biernat said.

The decision over whether the new rules were legal was taken according to the older rules, prompting the government to reject it.

Even before the decision was announced, Szydlo had said she would not recognise it.

“The statement that will be delivered by some of the judges of the constitutional court will not be a verdict in the legal sense of the term,” she said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro also said the judges "did not act on the basis of and within the law and thus acted unlawfully".

"The judgment has no legal force, it is not binding," he said, adding that the government would not publish it in the country’s official gazette.

Projection activism

In reaction, activists created a Facebook page to publish the ruling.

At night, they also projected the text onto the facade of the prime minister's office in Warsaw. They said they would keep doing it for seven days - the normal period of time after which rulings are meant to come out in the gazette.

Opponents also started to install tents outside Szydlo’s office and shouted: "Beata, print this sentence!" They told Polish media they intended to stay and wait for more protesters from the capital and elsewhere in Poland.

The dispute is likely to worsen relations between the Polish government and the EU. In January, the European Commission launched a rule-of-law monitoring process on Poland due to Szydlo’s constitutional changes among other issues.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the commission intends to publish a first list of measures to ensure the respect of the rule of law in April.

Another international body, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has launched a similar procedure through one of its advisory bodies, the so-called Venice Commission.

In a draft of its report on Poland leaked to press at the end of February, the Venice Commission called on the Polish parliament to repeal the law on the Constitutional Tribunal.

The draft report said that “not only is the rule of law in danger [in Poland], but so are democracy and human rights”.

The Venice Commission will hold a plenary session on Friday at which it is expected to adopt its final conclusions.

Sovereignty

Last week, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the power behind Szydlo’s throne, rejected any European attempt to ask for changes.

He said the dispute over the Constitutional Tribunal amounted to a question on “whether Poland is a sovereign country”.

“Poland is and must be a sovereign country. This is not just a matter of our dignity," he told party supporters.

Opinion

Moment of truth in Polish constitutional dispute

The Venice Commission report, out on Friday, gives the ruling PiS party a chance to retreat from their illiberal course. The EU should seize the moment to support PiS moderates.

Agenda

EU-Turkey migrant swap to begin next WEEK

Big week to see start of EU migrant returns to Turkey, sensitive talks in Poland on judicial reform, and a Dutch referendum on EU relations masquerading as a vote on Ukraine.

Opinion

Setting course for strong and focused EU

From strengthening the internal market to completing the energy union, the prime ministers of Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland set out their vision for the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  2. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  3. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  4. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week
  5. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  6. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  7. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  8. European Union returns to 2 percent growth

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference